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Industry Perspectives: Why benchmarking is crucial to the competitiveness of Canadian construction companies

Jeff Rankin
Industry Perspectives: Why benchmarking is crucial to the competitiveness of Canadian construction companies

For a long time, we’ve associated performance benchmarking with multinational companies like Toyota and Xerox.

We’ve since watched performance benchmarking enter the construction industry.

Larger Canadian contractors with sophisticated operations and specialized sectors such as the Alberta oil and gas industry were the earliest adopters. But small-and mid-sized construction companies now have opportunities to measure their own performance and productivity against other companies across the country using a free online tool from BuildForce Canada, developed with the support of the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP).

Why benchmark?

Benchmarking gives you the tools to analyze what you’re good at and where you can improve.

It allows you to compare the performance of your company against other companies in the construction industry and against your own ideas about how well you’re performing. Improving your company’s game may be as simple as changing a process inside the business, hiring new people with the appropriate skills, adopting a new technology or any combination of those three. By continuing to benchmark you can also continue to monitor the progress you’re making against your previous benchmarks.

You should benchmark because your competitors may already be doing it.

By identifying areas where you might improve and working to incorporate best practices into your operations, you’re making sure your company is ready to compete against other construction companies in your local market. By benchmarking using a truly national benchmarking tool you get to measure your performance against other construction businesses across the country.

As the construction industry becomes more global, you’ll also be better prepared to compete against companies from outside Canada who are already benchmarking.

Using a benchmarking tool to compare yourself against other businesses is particularly valuable in markets where there are fewer construction companies — the opportunities to meet with other owners as a group to discuss best practices is limited.

Benchmarking can help you to identify industry best practices simply by answering a few simple questions.

The BuildForce benchmarking tool has already done the research and incorporated best practices from around the world.

You should benchmark, because the process of answering some straightforward questions about your construction business can be as valuable as the report you get back.

While you can probably complete the BuildForce online benchmarking tool alone, I’ve sat down with various contractors as they’ve completed the survey with their own management team. I can honestly say that, following a discussion about best practices that stemmed from answering the questions, 100 per cent of them walked away with something valuable. It forces you to think about your business in ways that you might never think about during a busy workday.

Benchmarking helps your business because sharing is good.

We think of ourselves as a highly competitive industry that doesn’t like to share the details of our daily operations. By using benchmarking tools, none of the data you share can ever be traced back to your company. Your information is entered into a database anonymously so nobody knows exactly what you’re doing and you don’t know exactly what another company is doing, but you both know what the industry is doing.

By sharing more data more often, you can help to create a clearer picture of the competitiveness of the industry and how your business measures up.

You should benchmark because you can do it for free.

The BuildForce benchmarking tool can be used by any construction company that wants to participate. If you are interested in improving your company’s performance, visit www.benchmarkingtool.ca.

Finally, you should benchmark because it’s good for the future of the construction industry as a whole.

As part of the team of researchers that built and helped perfect the BuildForce benchmarking tool over the better part of a decade, we haven’t gone away. We’re data hungry and will use the anonymous data collected to help identify the industry’s greatest challenges and to develop solutions that will move the industry forward. If contractors put forth the effort to share their data, we’ll match their effort to help benefit the industry.

Jeff Rankin is department chair, Civil Engineering at the University of New Brunswick, and holds the M. Patrick Gillin Chair in Construction Engineering and Management. He was part of the team working to develop the BuildForce benchmarking tool.

Send comments and Industry Perspectives column ideas to editor@dailycommercialnews.com.

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